The ongoing war in Syria and conflicts around the world continue to drive refugees to seek asylum in the United States, the world’s top resettlement country. Last year, the United States resettled 69,933 refugees and granted asylum status to 25,199, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Between 600 and 700 refugees now live, work and attend school in Northeast Ohio.
Agencies like The Refugee Response and Refugee Services Collaborative help provide tutoring and on-the-job training while connecting them with other resources they need to thrive once they’re here.
The Refugee Response trains refugees to work on the Ohio City Farm, where they learn to grow food and manage every aspect of running a business, from logistics to accounting.
Despite the great work of these agencies that serve refugees in Cleveland, we’re still fighting negative public perceptions toward this vulnerable population.
Since awareness and education are the best ways to fight ignorance, we’re firing back by addressing these five common myths about refugees.
Myth #1: The Refugee Crisis Is Blown Out of Proportion
We’ve been hearing so much about refugees in recent years that we can become desensitized to the sad news. We may think it’s just the nature of the 24-hour news cycle or the nature of politics—especially in a presidential election year—that make the problem seem worse than it is.
Fact #1: Millions Need Help
By the end of 2014, the number of people who were displaced within their country or across the world had reached nearly 60 million, according to the Migration Policy Institute. To put that number into perspective, the population of the entire Midwest is about 68 million.
As if the violence they are fleeing wasn’t bad enough, they face many dangers trying to get to safety. So far this year alone, 191,134 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea, and more than 2,453 have died en route, according to the International Organization for Migration. That includes the 1,083 migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea just this past week crossing from Libya to Italy.
Myth #2: Most of the Refugees Are Young Men
During the Republican primary debates, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the majority of the refugees coming to Europe—77 percent—was young men.
Fact #2: The Majority Are Women and Children
Of the more than 4.2 million refugees, only about 850,000 had fled to Europe. According to the United Nations, 62 percent of those refugees were men, but the majority of refugees being referred to the United States are those who remain in the Middle East, primarily women and children. That includes the Syrian refugees—67 percent of whom are women and children under the age of 12, according to State Department data.
Myth #3: Turning Away Refugees Will Keep Us Safe
Many U.S. governors have been trying to stop refugees from resettling in their states, citing concerns about terrorism. Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama that his state “will not accept any refugees from Syria” as this would “irresponsibly expose our fellow Americans to unacceptable peril.”
Fact #3: The Number of Refugees the United States Has Taken In
The United States has taken in 784,000 refugees from around the world since 2001, according to the World Economic Forum. Of those, just three have been arrested for activities related to terrorism. Meanwhile, far more people are killed each year by gun violence. Since 2001, 3,380 Americans have been killed by terrorist attacks—nearly 3,000 of those deaths resulted from the Sept. 11 attacks. By contrast, nearly 10 times as many Americans die from gun violence each year since then—a total of 407,000 during that same 13-year period, according to the CDC and U.S. State Department.
Antonio Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said, “It is not the refugee outflows that cause terrorism, it is terrorism and war that creates refugees.”
Myth #4: The United States Can’t Afford to Take In Refugees
It’s a common perception that refugees drain resources from the countries where they relocate without giving anything back.
Fact #4: Refugees Affect the Economy
While there’s no question resettling refugees is expensive, especially in the short term,research from the United States, Denmark and Uganda has shown refugees have a positive or neutral impact on the economy of their host country over time.
In fact, they can actually strengthen the economy in areas like Cleveland that have suffered population loss. A 2012 study of refugees in Cleveland found that while the Refugee Services Collaborative of Cleveland spent $4.8 million on refugee services in 2012, the refugees added a total of 650 jobs and created a total economic impact of $48 million in the same year!
Myth #5: Refugees Don’t Want to Assimilate Into their New Communities
Again, this is a common perception that isn’t based in fact.
Fact #5: Most Find Jobs Within Five Months
The same study of Cleveland refugees found that despite having limited proficiency in English, most of the nearly 600 refugees who came to the area who were old enough to work were able to obtain jobs within five months.
The research also found they were more likely to become successful entrepreneurs compared with their native counterparts. From 2001 to 2012, the research noted refugees started at least 38 businesses in the Cleveland area and employed 141 people. This contributed to a total economic impact of 175 jobs and $12 million in spending in 2012 alone.
Cleveland is fortunate to have a number of agencies dedicated to helping refugees find the services they need, learn English and gain essential job skills so they can thrive. These agencies include The Refugee Response, the Catholic Charities Diocese of Cleveland and the Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland.
Want to learn more about refugees in your community? Join Community West Foundation and the Refugee Services Collaborative as we celebrate World Refugee Day with a family picnic!
The event takes place from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, June 18, at Edgewater Kite Field in Cleveland. Bring a dish to share and your favorite blanket, and enjoy sampling new food while meeting new people.